After creating both The Office and Extras, it would seem that Ricky Gervais is about as safe a bet as one could find in comedy today. But is he? Really? Really? (That is me noncommitedly saying “No,” without coming out and just saying so in hope that you’ll be more likely to read the review.) Really? Read up and find out.
From the second I heard about the then-impending Gervais movie The Invention of Lying (then known as the much less shittily-titled as The Other Side of the Truth), I was excited. The concept – a world without lies being taken advantage of by the one man who understands that you can say things that aren’t true – is a clever one to be sure, one that I was surprised nobody else hadn’t already come up with.
And Gervais, who co-wrote and co-directed the movie in addition to starring in it, might be the perfect guy to play the world’s first liar. Anyone who’s seen The Office (the better, British version, of course) knows Gervais can play a total jerk who nonetheless gets you on his side. And his sense of humor effortlessly matches Invention‘s set up of a world full of rude and awkwardly honest people that can’t even tell a white lie.
Then I sat down, watched the movie, and just started a lot of disappointment.
The problem here is, you’ve got a brilliant set-up working with a sub-standard plot, full of uninteresting characters. And when it comes down to it, a movie isn’t made by its set-up – it’s made by its plot and (more importantly,) characters. And all this movie has to fall back on is a unbelievable, mostly rehashed love story between two “best friends” that may or may not get over preconceived notions of love and get married in the end (they do.) A clever set-up can only take you so far, if you want to form an authentic, full-length story, you’re going to need more.
Characters always serve as the crux of a film â€“ and because they fail in The Invention of Lying, so does the film on a whole. But it should be mentioned that there are still some attributes to Lying that almost make it worthwhile.
For one, it’s definitely funny. Gervais, and his co-writer newcomer Matthew Robinson wring a plethora of jokes just out of the setup alone. They show us what advertising, movies, and dating are all like in a world of total and utter truth, and it’s usually pretty funny. As a friend told me, it would have made a damn good sketch.
Also, the film has an unjustifiably strong cast. At the forefront is Jennifer Garner, who is proving surprisingly adept at playing shallow but sweet women, in the role of the love interest. But also worth mentioning are Rob Lowe as the ultimate dry douchebag, and Jonah Hill as a depressed, suicidal neighbor that, despite the whole “suicidal” thing, manages to be pretty funny. Throw in a collection of great, small cameos, and you have a cast that could have been behind one of the better movies of the year.
Unfortunately, it’s just not enough. When it comes down to it, it’s just a bland movie – full of lazy montages and well-rehersed plot points known to every romantic comedy. Gervais is a champion of the Television comedy. But if this, his first foray into film (Ghost Town, which he only starred in, doesn’t count) is any indication, he’s got quite a long ways to go at the multiplex.